Board Harmony Communication

A connecting cheat sheet: Easy hints to help you make real connections

BY NANCY D. O’REILLY, PsyD

In today’s marketplace, the ability to collaborate is quickly becoming a must-have skill. But successful collaboration involves much more than engaging in the mile-wide-inch-deep world of social medial, insincere business card exchanges and traditional “what can you do for me” networking. Instead, you must actively seek out opportunities to make deeper, more meaningful and mutually beneficial connections.

Before you attend the next conference, fundraiser, or team meeting, make sure you know how to connect with others in ways that yield real relationships and change lives (including yours) for the better.

Here are 10 tips to help you supercharge your new connections:

  • Make the mental shift from “What can I get from you?” to “What can we create together?” Simple as it sounds, this really is the first step and the key to successful connections. When we think of networking as a self-serving exercise, we really don’t want to do it. It feels bad. But when we infuse sharing and giving into the process, suddenly it feels good. And it works. 
  • Go to functions alone. This will force you to meet people rather than spending the whole time chatting with friends and colleagues. At first, it’s really hard for some people to do this, but we humans are hardwired to connect. When you get over your initial anxiety, you will see how natural (and fun) it feels.
  • Sit beside someone you don’t know. Like showing up alone, this will force you to get to know someone new. Be friendly: Introduce yourself, introduce your neighbor to others and find something in common.
  • Have three or four good “go-to” questions in the bag. This will be a huge help in case a conversation grinds to a halt. It doesn’t matter what the questions are, but you might consider thought-provokers like “If time and money were no object, what would you be doing right now?” “What is the best part of your job?” “What is the hardest part of your job?” “What is one goal you’d like to accomplish before you die?” or “What have you done lately that was fun?”
  • Practice being interested rather than interesting. The old style of networking involved a lot of “selling” your skills and showcasing your knowledge. Resist the urge. Instead, when you’re talking to someone new, ask her about herself and really listen to her answers. 
  • Probe for people’s passions. Then stick to that topic for a while. You can tell when someone is excited about a subject. His eyes light up. His voice gets animated. When this happens keep the conversation going along these lines. Passion is a powerful energy source for making connections.
  • Read three relevant articles before the event. If you are at, say, a business convention, you might want to scour the trades for new trends, products and processes. This gives you fodder for discussion. The idea isn’t to use it to “show off” or impress the other person but to bolster your own confidence, which makes you comfortable enough to connect. 
  • Gravitate toward people who are smarter than you. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to be the smartest, most interesting, most successful person in the group. Try not to feel threatened by other amazing individuals. Instead, ask yourself what you can learn from them.
  • Ask, “What can I do to help you?” (Then follow through.) This may catch people off guard. They probably expect you to ask for an interview or a chance to pitch your product. When you ask a person if you can, say, introduce him to an influential colleague or bring your therapy dog to the children’s hospital she runs, anyone would be delighted.
  • Avoid phoniness at all costs. Be real. Don’t hide or downplay your true nature or your beliefs to fit in or to make sure the person you’re connecting with likes you. Healthy relationships are built on transparency, and people respect this…even if you don’t agree on everything.

These simple but effective techniques will help you move beyond surface networking and into the realm of genuine human connections. These are the relationships that can bring you bring fun, joy, and mutually helpful connections that just might last the rest of your life.

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Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, is an author of Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life and urges women to connect to help each other create a better world.

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